30.11.10

That is only but a small piece of a much bigger process

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Get involved if you want India rejuvenated

Rajesh Kalra of the Times of India

The manner in which most important appointments are made in the country, especially those that have a direct bearing on the public, often raises an eyebrow. It is commonly felt that quite a few, if not all, such appointments are made due to factors that have to do with a lot more than mere merit.

1)It could be the person's ability to work the system....and climb the greasy poles of power.

2) Proximity to the powers that be.....

3) His/her political affiliations...

4)Ability to buy his way through to the coveted post.

5) Nepotism/clanism

6) Regionalism

7) Sexism

8) Foreign power contacts

9) Connections to criminal mafia groups

10) Religious bigotry.

11) Club ability and attending the right schools/universities.

I am raising all this because the country, which is currently witnessing scams being unveiled at a never before pace, is also debating, pretty hotly, some very big and important appointments.

Just as the Supreme Court ticked off the government earlier this month over the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), which was met with a stunning response from the Attorney General that bordered on blackmail, the apex court itself is now battling whether the general public is entitled to know the criteria adopted for appointment and transfer of judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court. The apex court's predicament is in response to the various orders of the Central Information Commission that have held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes within the purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The two member bench of the apex court that was hearing this case has now referred the matter to its constitution bench.

In the last post, I had also mentioned about the 'India Rejuvenation Initiative' (IRI) and some interesting suggestions made by them on important appointments. I am quoting below from a letter written by IRI's founder member and former Chief Justice of India, R C Lahoti to Sonia Gandhi. Incidentally, IRI, that calls itself a 'forum for probity in public life', also has the former Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh and the former Comptroller & Auditor General and also the head of the high level committee investigating the Commonwealth games frauds, V K Shunglu, as its founder members among other well-known names.

The letter, interestingly, is on the vacancies in the Central Vigilance Commission, and was written on July 5, two months before the controversial appointment of PJ Thomas as the CVC was made.

"For the last seven months, two posts of Vigilance Commissioners in the CVC have been lying vacant and we understand that Shri Pratyush Sinha, CVC will also demit office in about two months time. While we have drawn attention of Government at the highest level to the unsatisfactory manner in which CVC has functioned during the last several years, this has produced no results", the letter begins.

It then gives the example of the murder of Satyendra Dubey and the consequent resolution issued by the CVC to protect whistleblowers, but "information available to us shows that after the issue of this resolution, every whistleblower who approached the CVC, came to grief while the culprits remain, by and large, unharmed to this day".

The letter says that this is "not a systemic failure rather it is the failure of those appointed to these high positions. In other words, the process of selection is wrong and so long as it continues, we will keep getting appointments which provide a perfect alibi for the government and nothing but frustration for us citizens. We suggest that the process of selection needs to be immediately amended with a view to secure the widest public participation."

Claiming that it was this public scrutiny that prevented Justice Dinakaran from being elevated to the Supreme Court, the letter urges Sonia Gandhi to have a process of public exposure by "competent authority of individuals who they wish to elevate to high office", adding that the "government is free to choose whom they like but before their appointment their names must be exposed to public scrutiny so that all information available in relation to these individuals is taken into account prior to appointment".

The letter then concludes that if we "continue to follow the present practice in case of CVC and other such vital positions", it will perpetuate the "present state of dysfunctional institutions. This kind of action requires political resolution rather than legal resolution and it can only be foisted from outside because any government of the day (whichever it may be) would always find it inconvenient to do so. We appeal to you in the interest of probity in governance to take this matter further".

I have a lot of faith in the gentlemen involved in IRI and also their intentions. I also think, as I said in my last post, those who know the system inside out are best equipped to plug the loopholes. However, I still think all these efforts would fail if people's participation remains low. After all we do get a chance to elect our political representatives every five years, and look at what we have been electing term after term. There cannot be a bigger public scrutiny than an election. If the result is still below expectation, it is because we ourselves do not exercise the power we have to scrutinise and reject incompetence.

One silver lining has been the recent Bihar elections result, where even though the voter percentage was only in the 50s, people still rewarded performance and rejected caste, religion and perhaps even platitudes.

Now imagine if more and more people took interest in their elected representatives, put them through a genuine process of public scrutiny and imagine this exercise then extended to big constitutional appointments as well. Wouldn't that be great?

I would urge you to respond to this post. I intend to take your responses and suggestions to IRI and seek their views on what the common man thinks about how it should be done. I am sure they wouldn't mind the common man involved in an initiative that seeks to rejuvenate India.